I believe absolute truth exists about God and religion. As I shifted from a literal and traditional testimony of the LDS church to a sacramental approach to Mormonism, I needed to feel like it was logically grounded in absolute truth. For many, that might seem silly. But for me, the criticism of this kind of religion rings a bit true, that it’s no more than “stories we don’t believe but we tell each other so we’ll be good until we die.”
The following is my attempt at sharing my personal belief of one plausible narrative of absolute truth which makes the sacramental approach to Mormonism a logical extension.
God exists and loves us.
We see that God created the world in a way that makes his involvement in it imperceptible to man. God keeps himself hidden from man in a large and public way. Though I believe he has the power to do so, he has chosen to never reveal himself in this way. Through this we learn that God has great respect for the concept of free agency and in allowing his children to learn by doing.
Historically, mankind has created religion and doctrines about God in the context of their own cultures and how they view themselves. Humans recognize the existence of God and desiring to worship him, create religion as a way to connect with him. Though these religions evolve separately, we see common principle between religions: God loves us, we should love each other, sacrifice, humility, obedience to a code of ethics, and belief in the afterlife.
Religion is not created “top down”; it’s created “bottom up”. God does not come down to man and tell him how to do religion. Mankind in different cultures have created religion as a way to worship and approach God. It’s not “Man: this is how you should do it.” It’s “God: this is how we think you want us to do it.”
Most likely, God has not directly and with high degree of specificity, spoken to humans to organize religion. If God does get involved with religious movements, it’s most likely to nudge them vaguely in the right direction and not to provide direct marching orders.
Though God may not have revealed it directly with specificity, absolute truth about the character of God, and his plan and purpose for us does exist. While it’s good to seek to understand these, the role of religion is primarily to worship God, facilitate a relationship with him, and learn to love and serve our fellow men.
The Bible is a collection of teachings that are usually inspired and can give us insight into the nature of God. Some of it is more inspired than others. God does inspire his children individually from time to time and some of these inspirations are recorded in the Bible. I believe the Bible should be viewed not as literal history but as a collection of inspired stories and allegories.
Christianity is an inspired world religion that teaches us about the character of God and the best way to live.
It’s difficult to separate out the New Testament teachings attributed to Jesus directly, and what was injected after the fact to bolster up the growing religion of Christianity. We can look at this in a couple ways.
1) Jesus is literal deity and a personification of God. Though it may be difficult to discern what New Testament teachings are directly from him, we can trust that he is the Son of God.
2) He was an inspired man that taught inspired teachings and exemplified the true character of God. In this, he is a symbol of the Son of God. A symbol of the personification of God. We can worship him and express faith in him, because we know if there was a personification of God, it would be exactly as we understand Jesus Christ.
The Book of Mormon is an inspired book of scripture. It also contains many stories and verses that are inspired and help us understand the true nature of God and lead us to connect with him in a more fulfilling way. The evidence is greatly stacked against it as an ancient American document. But I also don’t believe the simple anti-Mormon explanations for the book.
Joseph Smith was inspired to start a religion and publish the Book of Mormon. The historical record makes it difficult to understand Joseph, because so much of the historical record lines up against Joseph and makes him appear fraudulent. I believe he felt he received powerful revelations and inspirations from God. He knew he had something important to teach but didn’t exactly know how to do it. He likely felt inadequate in this responsibility and might have exaggerated the narrative to give himself more credibility. It’s also possible that as a very visionary person the line between physical reality and spiritual experience was sometimes blurred. As time passed and he cited his history at different intervals, this became more difficult to distinguish and communicate in human language in a consistent way.
Polygamy was a dark spot in church history. I don’t fully understand Joseph’s motivations. The historical record shows it was rooted in Joseph’s righteous desire to bind together the human family. But the record also shows some wrong behavior and likely illustrates a weakness in his character. However this doesn’t take away from his great accomplishments and what appears to be pure motives through most of his legacy. I love and revere Joseph Smith. I don’t wish to de-emphasize any unique doctrines brought through Joseph Smith or the Book of Mormon. The opposite is the case. These are critical to our heritage as Mormons. They are an expression of how we view God and how we can best come to him.
I sustain the brethren of the church. I view them as humble servants of God that are constantly working to bring the church in line with what we as a collective body of Christ feel is God’s will. I sympathize with those that feel some aspects of Mormon doctrine hurt them, such as LGBT or female equality issues, but I feel those are minor issues in the grand scheme of what a religion offers and I feel the church is moving in the right direction. I see the brethren in an optimistic and positive light and acknowledge their difficult task in understanding and implementing God’s will.
By their fruits ye shall know them. I know the fruit of the LDS church is sweet. I believe God is pleased with the LDS church. It has great power to do many good things in the world–relieve suffering, bring people to God, and improve the quality and abundancy of life. God is the husband and the church is the wife. A husband and wife are not always on the same page, but they seek to close that gap and come together.
The LDS church is true. It’s a true religion. But maybe more important, it’s our religion. It is a beautiful place to connect with God and with fellow saints and help each other in our efforts to worship and become more like God.